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Even without Faith, Religion Must Be Returned to the Public Square

Sept. 8 2017

Commenting on the challenges Western society faces as religion goes into decline, Jonathan Sacks urges both believers and non-believers to keep religion part of public life.

[I]f you are a regular goer to church, synagogue, or other place of worship, you are more likely to help a stranger in need, give a meal to the hungry, shelter someone who’s homeless, find somebody a job, give to charity (whether the cause is religious or secular), and get involved in voluntary work. The best predictor is not class, ethnicity, or education. The best indicator is: do you or don’t you go regularly to a house of worship.

[The eminent sociologist] Robert Putnam refined this thesis and said that it doesn’t matter what you believe, but whether you go. An atheist who went regularly to church is more likely to be an altruist than a deeply-believing believer who keeps to himself. So if you’re an atheist in synagogue, you’re probably a decent kind of guy. We have lots of atheists in synagogue. One of them, the great, late, much-lamented philosopher at Columbia University, Sidney Morgenbesser . . . said when he was ill, “I don’t know why God is so angry with me just because I don’t believe in Him.”

If atheists are to attend houses of worship, writes Sacks, believers must not seal themselves off:

In today’s world, religion can do one of three things. Number one, it can attempt to conquer society. That is the radical Islamist version. Number two, it can withdraw from society. That is the ultra-Orthodox option or [what some Christians call] the “Benedict option.” Or number three, it can attempt to re-inspire society. . . .

If we adopt the first option, the radical anti-Western option, we will move straight into the dark ages. If we adopt the second option, we will survive the dark ages, but they will still be dark. But if we adopt the third option of being true to ourselves and yet engaged in the public square, we have a chance of avoiding the dark [ages]. . . .

So what do I mean by religion in the public square? I mean simply religion as a consecration of the bonds that connect us, religion as the redemption of our solitude, religion as loyalty and love, religion as altruism and compassion, religion as covenant and commitment, religion that consecrates marriage, that sustains community and helps reweave the torn fabric of society. That kind of religion is content to be a minority. Jews have been a minority wherever we went for 2,000 years. [Even when its adherents belong to] a minority, religion can be a huge influence.

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Decline of religion, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Synagogue

In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia